“For me it was really meaningful to just screen in Cannes and be a part of that world,” says Australian filmmaker Charles Williams, whose short film All These Creatures was selected for the prestigious film festival. “Winning the Palme d’Or is tough for me to process, I’m slowly getting there. But in terms of the industry it obviously makes an impact.
“A lot of people who would not usually watch your film suddenly get in touch and it also just kind of gives you some more legitimacy as a filmmaker, which as many short filmmakers know is often in short supply. I think the response to the film itself though, outside of just the awards is really making the most difference.”
All These Creatures has now been entered into the Oscar race, and seems a shoo-in based on its track record. On top of Cannes, it won Best Australian Short Film at the Melbourne International Film Festival, and internationally, the Jury Prize at Concorto in Italy, Best Screenplay at Black Canvas in Mexico, the Jury Prize at BIAFF, and the Small Golden Camera 300 award for cinematography at Manaki Brothers Cinematographers Festival.
We spoke with Charles Williams about the origins of All These Creatures, his influences, why shoot on film and what the future may hold.
Can you speak to where this story comes from for you personally?
It’s difficult, but I think if you have a parent that is volatile or violent, you have to separate yourself from that impact and find some kind of deeper understanding as you get older – was this person ‘bad’, or damaged themselves or mentally ill? And mental illness is an incredibly important issue that hasn’t been presented very well on screen.
When I was an adolescent I was consumed by the same things as the lead character in the film. You wonder, if that’s coming before me, what am I going to turn into and how much control do I have over that? These are lingering obsessions of mine, and they’ve never really left me, but my perspective on them has changed somewhat.
I also think all of us reckon with these mythic images we have of our parents as we grow older. We try find ways of seeing them with more compassion, and as real people outside of who they were in our memories. I also sat down to write this film about a week after my daughter was born. But that’s probably just a coincidence.
Why shoot on film? Have you got strong opinions on film v digital?
I’m kind of old now, so shooting on film wasn’t so foreign to me. I’ve shot a lot digitally now too and I’m not religious about one or the other; like everything when you’re making a film it’s a trade-off.
Shooting film just seemed like the best decision for this film. The organic nature and the imperfection of super 16, in particular, felt like it married up well as a way to immerse an audience in the themes, the imperfect memories and ‘90s period of the film.
Also having a cast that was largely young and non-professional, made it seem obvious to shoot digital. But I thought if we painted ourselves into a corner by shooting film, we’d have to be very specific and selective, which if we could pull it off would be better for this particular film.
We were really working with basically no budget, everyone worked for free and all the equipment was sponsored so it was incredibly challenging. However, being able to shoot film I think also helped everyone feel like their work was valued and added to the fun – even if it did put a dent in my credit card.
I really have to thank Kodak, Cinelab, Park Rd Post Production, Sound Firm, Final Sound, City of Greater Dandenong, The Butchery, The Refinery, Casting Sugar, Savage Rentals and Panavision for making it possible.
Are there any cinematic references or otherwise with the film that you made, in terms of conceptualising it?
This is the first film I’ve made where I didn’t have any initial conscious influences. However, as I was making it I could notice little elements of other filmmakers appearing. Bits of Tarkovsky, Malick, Cassavetes, the Dardennes, even a bit of Harmony Korine. Some of these I’d later talk about with my DP Adric Watson and Production Designer Eleanora Steiner.
You’ve made so many short films for so long, why no feature film? And what’s next…
I suppose I haven’t really been able to get much traction over the years. I’ve had a fair amount of success with my other shorts, but I also come from a very poor upbringing and that doesn’t really go away. So, there’s often other lingering problems which sometimes take years to address and these don’t really appear if you’re from a less desperate background. Filmmaking is not an easy pursuit, and without financial support or parents, little obstacles can become major road blocks.
I’m putting most of my energy right now into the feature which takes place in a very similar tone and themes as the short. It takes a lot of what the short is dealing with and expands it in a somewhat different world that is less coming of age.
Top photo of the team after the screening in Cannes. Left to right: Chiara Constanza (Composer), Mandela Mathia (Actor, Mal), Yared Scott (Actor, Tempest), Charles Williams (Writer, Director), Adric Watson (Cinematographer), Eleanora Steiner (Production Designer)